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Olongapo on eve of U.S. turnover of Subic Base

OLONGAPO, Philippines -- More than 2,000 people staged a festive parade Wednesday on the eve of Washington's turnover of most parts of the U.S. Subic Bay Naval Base to the Philippines.

Mayor Richard Gordon said the march was meant to show that Filipinos were ready to assume control of the sprawling repair and logistics center for the Seventh Fleet after U.S. troops withdraw.

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The United States would hand over most of the base to the Philippines Wednesday in line with a one-year withdrawal schedule. Manila last year rejected a new 10-year lease for Subic.

The remaining 1,400 U.S. troops would move to Cubi Point, a small naval air station within the Subic complex, until Nov. 24 when the pullout from Washington's last Philippine base shall have been completed.

Gordon, riding a horse, led the two-hour march participated in by local officials, students, teachers, Aeta tribal people and vendors which snaked through the main streets of Olongapo, 50 miles west of Manila.

A brass band and four local drum and bugle corps played as hundreds of residents cheered the marchers, who held a short program in front of the base main gate.

The popular Gordon heads the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, the government agency tasked to oversee Subic's conversion into a commercial port and industrial zone.

Several investors from the United States, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore, among others, have expressed interest in investing at Subic.

'Don't try to cut down the trees in the forest or we will shoot you with our bows and arrows,' said a placard held by an Aeta girl.

Gordon has asked the help of the tribal people, 400 former Filipino base workers and 1,700 volunteers to guard the base facilities and thousands of acres of forest reservation from looters and loggers.

Eighty-nine former base taxis have been refurbished and converted into patrol cars to be used in guarding the base, Gordon said.

The nearby Clark Air Base was plundered by local residents with the help of corrupt military and police officers shortly after it was abandoned by Washington in 1991 because of damage from a volcanic eruption.

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